IT Outsourced  

Firewalls and routers

As soon as you have two computers and one internet connection, you need a device to connect them both to the same internet connection. You could lease an internet connection for each computer but costs would quickly become prohibitive. As your business has grown, you have likely added a Router or Firewall to your network so that your computers can access email and other internet based services. I have a lot of customers asking about what the difference is, and why can you buy a $50 one at a box store, but then get a quote for $600 for one from a network specialist.

In order for your computer to access services on the internet, you have to have a connection and a path or route to the services. Services can be things like email or websites, but also updates for software like Windows XP and antivirus programs. Routers take traffic from one network and pass it through to another network. Think of an information booth at a mall. If you are looking for a particular store, the people at the information booth will assist you to your destination. Basic routing can provide information on how to get where you want to go, without any kind of security.

Firewalls are like Customs at the airport. You live in Nigeria and want to visit a friend in Calgary, but wait, Border Security has checked your bag, and you appear to be carrying some contraband, so….no, I’m sorry, you can’t enter Canada. Have a nice day….bye bye, denied entry.

Cheap routers can function like a firewall – for instance, they only allow traffic from one network called the Local Area Network (LAN) to the other network often called the Wide Area Network (WAN). Often as a network becomes more sophisticated, you need to route traffic both ways, and also provide some basic security to traffic. Very sophisticated firewalls will simply act as security and require a separate router. Some organizations have imposed very strict rules about what information flows out and what sites you can access.

Generally it’s a good idea to put a firewall between your network and the internet rather than on each computer. Firewalls will restrict the amount of information on your local network, and improve performance. Firewalls installed locally on each computer can also make it much more difficult to share things like printers or access to shared files.

Low cost firewalls are easily accessed by hackers once they are detected. They also don’t offer much protection once a computer on your local network has been compromised. Some businesses have experienced the pain of having the internet suspended because their internet provider has detected unusual or illegal activity. A single computer infected with a virus can attempt to mail out replicas to other computers. Many firewalls can be configured to prevent many kinds of undesirable activity and expensive firewalls offer better security, and more features. Where I work, we are getting more requests from customers looking to restrict access to websites like Facebook and YouTube to improve productivity. Whatever firewall you decide to go with, be aware of the risks and understand what your options are.

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About the Author

Mark Smed started as a self-employed consultant, integrating computers into small business in 1989.  The range of work expanded into installing networks and consulting with businesses on the fast paced changes in technology.  As his career progressed he taught Network Administration at a small business college and continued to build his base of clients. 

Today, Mark works for Northern Computer Inc. (http://www.northerncomputer.ca) as a consultant, specialist and technician.  His client base continues to grow and many of his clients have worked with him for over 10 years now.  In 2001, Mark joined the Network Professional Association (http://www.npa.org) and now sits on the board of directors and is responsible for publishing the Network Professional Journal for the association.

Mark can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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